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'Wolf in Cashmere' Bernard Arnault Has a Cutthroat Reputation. In a 'Succession'-Like Drama, He's Eyeing His Replacement — and It Might Not Be Family. The billionaire, once the richest man in the world, is keeping his options open.

By Amanda Breen

Key Takeaways

  • Arnault, 74, persuaded the LVMH board to raise the mandatory retirement age for chairman and chief executive to 80.
  • Although he's considering each of his five children as his successor, he admits he might not choose a family member.
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JULIEN DE ROSA | Getty Images

Seventy-four-year-old Bernard Arnault, who currently serves as chairman and CEO of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is thinking about the future of the sprawling luxury goods company he's built.

Despite convincing the LVMH board to raise the mandatory retirement age for the chairman and chief executive from 75 to 80, per Bloomberg, the French business magnate, investor and art collector, once the richest man in the world, must consider who will replace him at the helm.

Although he's considering each of his five children for the role, he told The New York Times it's not inevitable that one of them will succeed him. "The best person inside the family or outside the family should be one day my successor," he said.

Related: Who Is Bernard Arnault? See The Richest Person's Net Worth

Arnault bought Boussac Group, which owned Christian Dior, in 1984. The NYT notes the businessman bought the company for 1 franc and fired 9,000 people. That investment "was the acorn he used to amass control of LVMH," the New York Times Magazine reported in 1989.

Arnault's cutthroat dealmaking and sense of style earned him his "Wolf in Cashmere" title, per the outlet. In France, he's a high-profile, controversial figure amid unpopular pension reforms: Earlier this year, more than 100 protestors swarmed LVMH's Paris headquarters and called for the rich to contribute more to the state pension, Reuters reported.

French media and TikTokers often draw parallels between Arnault's succession planning and the American HBO drama Succession, which followed the Roy siblings' battle over their father's CEO position. The Arnault family hates the comparison and tries to downplay it, according to the NYT.

Related: 4th-Gen CEO Reveals How to Avoid Dysfunction in Your Business

Who are the heirs vying for Arnault's role?

The oldest and only daughter is Delphine, 48, chairman and chief executive of Christian Dior Couture and a member of the LVMH executive committee and its board. Antoine, 46, manages the group's image and sustainability efforts and is chief executive of its men's wear brand Berluti, chairman of the Italian luxury house Loro Piana, chief executive of Christian Dior S.E. and a member of the LVMH board. Both are from Arnault's first marriage to Anne Dewavrin.

The youngest three are from Arnault's second marriage to Canadian concert pianist Hélène Mercier. Alexandre, 31, is executive vice president of product and communications at Tiffany. Frédéric, 28, is chief executive of Tag Heuer. Jean, 24, is Louis Vuitton's watch director.

From a young age, the Arnault children were prepared to be potential successors. They were expected to get perfect grades in school and were paired with mentors who taught them the business and tracked their performance — but they also accept the fact that the next leader might not be one of them, according to the NYT.

Related: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from HBO's 'Succession'

Even so, they continue to prepare for the possibility.

Today, Arnault controls roughly half of LVMH, which has a market valuation of nearly $390 billion, per CNBC. Arnault created a corporate structure wherein each of his children gets a 20% stake that can't be sold for 30 years without unanimous board approval, per the NYT. The siblings attend monthly hour-and-a-half meetings with their father at LVMH headquarters to talk business. They're also preparing their own children for the same.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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